The Matt Denn Announcement Is Bittersweet

On Facebook today, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn announced he will not be seeking reelection for Attorney General in 2018.  I was shocked to say the least.  This is a man who has dedicated the last 14 years to public service and won every election that came his way.  But I get his reasons: he wants to spend more time with his family.  Because that’s who Matt is above everything else: a father and a husband.  His kids always come first.

I first met Matt at the first IEP Task Force meeting three years ago.  It feels like an eternity ago.  Since then, I’ve contacted him about various education issues in the First State.  Not only did Matt chair the IEP Task Force, but he also recorded the meetings and put the audio recordings on a website so ALL parents could listen to what was discussed.  That is very unusual for a task force, but Matt knew parents wanted to know what was going on.  Throughout the task force, Matt fought for parent rights when it comes to their child’s Individualized Education Program.

A couple of years ago, I publicly asked Matt to run for Governor in 2016.  He obviously declined my request.  I don’t always agree with the legal opinions that come out of Matt’s office, but I respect that I have a right to request one.  At heart, Matt is a good guy.  He cares about people.  Even yesterday, he released a video about school bullying urging kids to not bully others.

Now the hunt for a new Attorney General begins!  I am sure the Delaware Democrats and Republicans are already making calls.  I have one person who I would LOVE to see as the AG, but I will refrain from saying who my pick would be just yet.  But in all seriousness Matt, and I know you still have a lot of time left in office, I for one will miss you after January 2019!

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Task Force Looking At Special Education Costs In Delaware Is Very Dangerous Ground

House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced today by State Rep. Kevin Hensley and Senator Nicole Poore would look at the costs of special education in Delaware.  Another task force, with the usual representation.  A bunch of people sitting around a table, half of which won’t have a clue what they have jumped into.  The Delaware Way.  But here is the catch with this one: most of the spending going on with special education is based on federal mandate based on IDEA.

I have a hunch what some of the impetus for this is.  For years, districts have been complaining about McAndrews Law Firm.  Most of these cases wind up in settlements and the districts are crying foul on this.  But, if the districts and charters were doing the right thing to begin with, none of these cases would get to that point.  McAndrews won’t even take a case unless it has merit.  They won’t take a case based on a notice of meeting not going out once or twice.

Good luck with this task force trying to figure out WHY special education placements are increasing.  It doesn’t really matter why.  What matters is that they are and our General Assembly better find out how to wrap their arms around it instead of ducking the issues.  I can say most of the kids who lived in my neighborhood that were home one summer day in 2006 were subjected to nasty fumes coming from an accident at the old Reichhold Chemical Plant in Cheswold.  They all have disabilities of one sort or another.  My son is one of them.  We live in a polluted state.  I highly doubt this task force would look at things like that.

Are all special education placements valid?  I don’t know.  I know Response to Intervention is horrible.  Standardized testing should never be a measurement of whether a kid needs special education.  Autism rates have been soaring for over a decade now.  I just hope the Delaware DOE doesn’t put a gag order on district teachers and administrators like they did with the IEP Task Force.  They told districts and charters NOT to have anyone give public comment at those meetings.

Still, not one peep about giving Basic Special Education costs for kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  We don’t need another task force to figure out that no-brainer.  If they really want to care, how about they allow our Auditor of Accounts office to FULLY audit every single penny in special education along with ALL of education.  We know the money isn’t always going where it needs to.  But Delaware loves their task forces to give some crappy illusion of people wanting to do the right thing.  How about just following the law to begin with?

Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Nears Completion

facilitatedworkgroup

After some starts and stops, the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan is almost finished.  The plan has been underway since 2014 when Governor Jack Markell inserted the creation of the strategic plan in the FY2015 epilogue language of the state budget.  Matthew Korobkin, the Special Education Officer through the Secretary of Education’s office at the Delaware Dept. of Education, will give a status update on the plan to the State Board of Education at their meeting on January 19th.  This is not to be confused with the State of Delaware Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities.

Last fall, the Special Education Strategic Plan was retooled after disability advocates viewed an initial draft.  As a result of that, along with a very big push from State Rep. Kim Williams, a Facilitated Workgroup came into formation to fine tune the plan and make sure all voices were heard.  In mid-December, the newly created group had a public two-day retreat to decide what should be in the plan.  From there, sub-groups worked on different parts of the plan.  It is expected to be released for public comment at some point in February, shortly after the State Board of Education meeting next week.  From there, at some point in March, a presentation will be given to the State of Delaware Oversight Group for the Special Education Strategic Plan which includes members of the Delaware Interagency Resource Committee, a representative from Governor Carney’s office, and the Chairs of the Senate and House Joint Finance Committee.

The stakeholder workgroup has seven goals for development of the strategic plan which include the following: Students, Parents & Families, Community, Staff/Partners, Resources, Policies & Regulations, and Delivery/Structure/Systems.  Like most Strategic Plans, this one will be not be set in stone and will be considered a fluid document whereby changes and tweaks can be added as needed.  But every plan needs a foundation and what we will soon see are the building blocks for this plan.  Things can happen which could substantially change the plan including the Delaware state budget and the upcoming ruling on the United States Supreme Court special education case of Endrew v. Douglas County School District.

Various groups and committees revolving around special education have occurred in Delaware over the past decade, but this is the first time I have seen such a huge mix of school districts, parents, and advocacy groups.  The last group to form policy around special education was the IEP Task Force from 2014 which led to a large number of changes to state law and regulations.  No education plan will ever please everyone and there will be parts people love and some others disapprove of.  If there is one thing I have learned in education, it is constantly evolving and nothing will ever be perfect.  But I would encourage any and all persons who care about special education to give this plan a very careful read when it comes out and let your thoughts be known with a goal of improving education for special needs kids.

The members of the Facilitated Workgroup consist of the following:

Michele Marinucci, Woodbridge School District

Daphne Cartright, Autism Delaware

Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School

Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware

Jon Cooper, Colonial School District

Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter Schools Network

State Representative Kim Williams, Legislator

Kristin Dwyer, DSEA

Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association

Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District

Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Delaware Dept. of Education

Elisha Jenkins, Division for the Visually Impaired

Bill Doolittle, Parent Advocate

Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District

Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program

Wendy Strauss, Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens

Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware Center for Disability Studies

John Marinucci, Delaware School Boards Association

Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate

Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware

Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf

Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs

Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District

Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

*above photo courtesy of State Rep. Kim Williams, photographed by yours truly at the 12/9 retreat

 

Delaware AG Matt Denn Supports Parents In Upcoming U.S. Supreme Court Special Education Case

supremecourt

As the Chairman of the IEP Task Force in Delaware back in 2014, Delaware Attorney General (then Lieutenant Governor) Matt Denn stated in the first meeting that Delaware students with disabilities deserved more than what federal law under IDEA stated.  He announced yesterday he will advocate for special needs children getting a top-notch education.  Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme court decided to hear a special education case regarding what a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) really is.  The is significant due to the fact that special education changed a lot when IDEA was reauthorized in 2004.  This will be the first time the highest court in the land has tackled FAPE in a very long time.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case from the state of Colorado involving the level of educational services that must be provided to public school students with disabilities. The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is significant because it will be the first time in decades that the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed this issue, and different federal courts around the country have come to different conclusions on the question.

“This case may not have significant implications for Delaware public schoolchildren with disabilities,” Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said. “Delaware state law was changed in 2010, in a bill I worked on as Lieutenant Governor with Representative Quinn Johnson and Senator David Sokola, to require that Delaware public schools provide services to Delaware students with disabilities that matches the highest level of services required by federal courts interpreting this issue. However, sometimes the language that the U.S. Supreme Court uses in issuing its decisions can be as important as the decisions themselves. For that reason, the Delaware Department of Justice will be seeking to advocate – potentially with other state Attorneys General — for the U.S. Supreme Court to find that the highest level of services for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts is the correct level for all of the nation’s children, and for the Supreme Court to provide specific guidance to the states as to how to implement its decision in order to ensure that children with disabilities have an opportunity to fulfill their potential.”

denn

 

In regards to that bill from 2010, Denn said the following about the bill when it was introduced:

“It is completely unacceptable for us to tell the parents of most children that we want their kids to have the best public school education in America, while telling the parents of students with disabilities that their kids will receive the educational equivalent of a serviceable Chevrolet,” Lieutenant Governor Denn said. “We have a legal and a moral obligation to these children to provide them with a meaningful education, and this bill is a first step to making sure that happens.”

Denn has always been one of the strongest advocates in Delaware for students with disabilities.  I am glad he is putting his support behind the parents in this potentially landmark Supreme Court case.  With that being said, the very definition of special education will be redefined yet again if education reformers get their way with their dreams of “IEPs for ALL”.  I pray, if that time does come, that Matt Denn will be at the front of the pack for students with disabilities, their parents, and disability advocates to make sure special needs students don’t get lost in the shuffle.

In the meantime, the Delaware Dept. of Education, under the direction of Governor Markell in epilogue language in the FY2015 budget, is still working on a Special Education Strategic Plan for the state, more than two years since it was created.

How Is It A “Strategic Plan” When It Takes An Ex Rodel Employee Over Two Years To Build It?

squarepegroundhole

If the strategy to improve special education in Delaware is to delay improving it for two years, the Delaware Department of Education is doing a bang-up job!

The Delaware Dept. of Education put out an announcement today for their “Special Education Strategic Plan”.  This plan was snuck into the epilogue language of the FY2015 budget on June 30th, 2014.  Here we are, over 27 months later, with NO Special Education Strategic Plan.  The director of this strategic plan is a former employee of the Rodel Foundation with no actual teaching experience in the classroom.  Matthew Korobkin worked for a collaborative that helped ten school districts with assistive technology.  That is NOT the same thing as living and breathing special education.  But somehow that qualified him for a job with the Massachusetts DOE (which Rodel CEO Paul Herdman worked for way back when) where he worked for 14 months.  Then he worked for Rodel for 2 1/2 years.  In October of 2014, he joined the Secretary of Education office as a “Special Education Officer”.

Given his background with technology and Rodel, I can easily see where this “strategic plan” is heading.  I can picture words like “personalized learning” and “competency-based education” being in this report.  And let’s not be fooled by this new desire for public input on special education.  This guy has never once sought out my opinion on anything.  This is more of the DOE charade where they give the illusion of public input so they can include it in the report with words like “we brought stakeholders from across the state together to discuss this”.  Right out of the Rodel playbook…

After butting heads with the Autism community over the failed amendment to Senate Bill 93, this is the guy who we want creating this strategic plan?  Let’s get real here.  Somehow, someway, Rodel wanted to get in on special education.  Their biggest enemy, in my opinion, is parents of children with disabilities.  We see through their crap and know that anything they want to invade our kids lives is somehow going to benefit companies and not our kids.  So they wormed one of their guys into the Secretary of Education office.  This guy has been collecting a paycheck for well over two years with NO results.  And now, we are led to believe we are going to see this “strategic plan” sometime before Jack Markell leaves office?  Why haven’t they been soliciting parent input on this for the past two years?  If this guy was remotely serious, he would have gone to parents in the first place.  Not wait two years.  When the DOE has this strategic plan overshadow everything else in special education, I have a major beef with that.  I guess we have to wait even longer for our kids to get the special education they needed two years ago so the ex Rodel guy can figure it all out.  How ironic they will be getting this out along with the Every Student Succeeds Act implementation and “stakeholder” input.  Almost as if that was the plan all along…

Meanwhile, the Delaware DOE is seeing a large increase in special education due process hearings and administrative complaints.  The placements in residential treatment centers is increasing every year, whether in-state or out of state.  Students with disabilities continue to do poorly on the Smarter Balanced Assessment as they are forced to take the test for longer periods of time than their peers.  Is it really a coincidence this is all happening at larger rates since Delaware implemented Common Core?  And what will happen to these students when we go full-blown personalized learning?  Competency-based education and special education are oil and water.

Here is the press release with my thoughts in red.

Public input sought to inform special education strategic plan

The Delaware Department of Education invites members of the public to three input sessions, one in each county, to inform the state’s strategic plan for special education.  Attendees will be asked to frame their comments around the following two questions:

1.    What are the most critical challenges in the delivery of special education services within the State of Delaware?

 I guess Mr. Korobkin didn’t bother to listen to ANY of the audio recordings from the IEP Task Force.  I can answer this one.  The most critical challenge is the Delaware DOE hiring ex Rodel employees to launch some Strategic Plan that takes over two years to create.

2.    When thinking about these challenges, what solutions do you think may solve these challenges?

Get back to reality and stop living in this nightmare world where even students with disabilities can do as well as their peers if we just give ’em enough rigor and grit to catch up.  Stop fooling everyone and stop playing games at the expense of students, teachers, schools, and parents.  The jig is up.

 Input will be recorded, reviewed, and used to inform the creation of the strategic plan.

I guess parents talking about their own experiences with special education, which is being recorded, isn’t going to come back to haunt them in some way.  I love the wording here: “used to inform”.  Not used to create, but inform.  Which means nothing when you actually think about it.  Sorry, but how much is Korobkin making at the DOE?  What the hell has he been doing for two years that he is just now getting to the parent input part of this plan?  I can picture it already: “Guys, the Strategic Plan is done!” “Did you get any parent input?”  “No, do I need that?”  “It looks good in the report.”  “Okay, I’ll get right on that!”

 

The meetings are planned for:

·         4 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Collette Education Resource Center Conference Room A, 35 Commerce Way, Dover

·         6:30 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Wilmington Public Library Commons Room, 10 E. 10th St., Wilmington

·         4:30 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Greenwood Public Library meeting room, 100 Mill St., Greenwood

 

Should you need accommodations at any of these meetings, please contact Matthew Korobkin at Matthew.Korobkin@doe.k12.de.us or (302) 735-4192.

How about students with disabilities get the accommodations they need?  And I’m not talking about standards-based accommodations or accommodations for your precious Smarter Balanced test, but ones that don’t put them in a grinder!

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

Delaware State Board of Education Interfering With IEP Process & Matt Denn Is Not Happy About It

Regulation 926 is up for a vote on Thursday at the State Board of Education meeting.  Dealing with IEPs and the Procedural Safeguards pamphlet parents or guardians receive prior to an IEP meeting, Regulation 926 actually attempts to water down the Procedural Safeguards.  Attorney General Matt Denn is NOT happy about this.

Under state and federal law, it is mandatory for parents to get the Procedural Safeguards prior to an IEP meeting.  The language in the pamphlet is very specific in defining the rights for a parent or guardian of a student with disabilities.  Instead, the DOE wants to make sure it is “available” and gives a summary instead of parents actually receiving the legal document when a notice of an IEP meeting goes out.

Denn cites the concern that some parents or guardians may not have access to the internet or email.  This isn’t the first time Denn has challenged the State Board of Education over IEP concerns.  As the Chair of the IEP Task Force a couple years ago, Denn was adamant about making sure parents’ rights with IEP meetings were the central focus.  This was one of the central tenants of the legislation that came out of the task force, Senate Bill 33.

I can’t understand why the State Board, as directed by the Delaware Department of Education continues to change what doesn’t need to be changed.  When it comes to special education, they are silent over the lack of basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Special Education has very strict laws in Delaware State Code and federal law under IDEA.  But it almost seems like they purposely try to change the law any chance they get because they think they can.  Last week, the State Board of Education was put on Sunset Review by the Delaware General Assembly members of the Joint Sunset Committee.

The IEP Task Force Is Back! Too Bad Nobody Knows & They Are Having Non-Public Meetings…

Closed

Today the IEP Task Force reconvened in a meeting about the new IEP Plus 5.0.  Together with the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC), a meeting was held to go over the new functionalities of the IEP computer system that former Chair of the IEP Task Force Matt Denn wanted to scrap altogether.  This meeting was SO important nobody knew about it.  And unless legislation has been introduced extending Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 from the 147th General Assembly, anything with the name “IEP Task Force” is technically illegal.

cantbloghere

While pretty much nobody showed up to the meeting from the old IEP Task Force, I find it interesting the DOE would stage a meeting in conjunction with the GACEC and this mythical new IEP Task Force.  None of the legislators from the previous task force showed up.  Matt Denn wasn’t there.  So who is running this?  Apparently, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group Mary Ann Mieczkowski ran the meeting.  She was on the IEP Task Force.  And she is also a member of the GACEC.

closedtothepublic

So we have a non-public meeting of two very public entities.  Say the IEP Task Force was just a name thrown on over a month ago (which was when an email was sent to different task force members advising them of this meeting today).  The GACEC should have definitely put this on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar.  But I guess non-transparency is okay if nobody finds out about it!

ParentsNotPermitted

From what I have learned, the meeting was very boring.  It was a lot of technical lingo about the updated computer system run by Sunguard.  Sunguard also runs e-school, that clever little database that houses EVERYTHING about your child.  IEP Plus is the system where ALL IEPs are stored.  But that’s not the point.  I’ve been in IEP meetings where IEP Plus sucks the oxygen out of the room and technical difficulties take up far too much time.  I’m sure it isn’t just schools and the DOE who are fed up by it.  But here is the DOE, probably paying tons of money for this upgrade with no one the wiser.  By denying any parent the ability to go to this meeting, I have to wonder what other meetings are going on in this state behind closed doors that should be open to the public.  I’m sure there are plenty!  Like I’ve said a couple times: “Delaware, first to sign the Constitution, the last to follow it!”

authorized personnel

A Message From Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn About IEPs And DOE Surveys

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn wants all parents of students with disabilities with an IEP to read this message!  As part of the IEP Task Force recommendations back in 2014 which became part of Senate Bill 33 last year, the Delaware DOE is required to send surveys out to a representative number of families where a child has an IEP.  The goal of the survey is to see how our schools are doing with the IEP process and implementation.  I strongly urge all parents in Delaware who  have a child with an IEP to take this survey.  Thank you.

“Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask for your assistance in ensuring that our schools are complying with their legal responsibilities to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities. One of the recommendations of the IEP Improvement Task Force that I chaired was to survey families specifically about their experience with the IEP process, so the state could determine if particular schools or districts were failing to comply with their legal responsibilities to children with disabilities. The General Assembly enacted legislation last year requiring the Department of Education to conduct this survey. The Department of Education, through the Center for Disabilities Studies at the University of Delaware, is mailing such a survey out to the homes of a randomized group of approximately 5,000 students with IEPs. In addition to these mailed surveys, we have also created an online version which will allow families who do not receive the mailed survey to share their experience. While we request permission to contact the responding families if there are concerns about their responses, they may choose to participate anonymously.

I ask you to share the web address for this online survey with the families of children you serve and encourage their participation, so we can try to ensure that all children with disabilities in our state receive the support to which they are entitled.”

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2T789KW

Sincerely,

Matt Denn

Senator Nicole Poore Looks Out For Students With Disabilities In Transition

Students with disabilities have big choices to make when they turn 18.  But some of them are not able to make those choices of their own cognizance.  Delaware Senator Nicole Poore introduced Senate Bill 180 yesterday which would allow for those students to have an educational decision-maker to make those decisions for them in educational decisions.  I fully support this bill.  It also states for those students who do have this capacity to retain those rights.  Co-sponsored by State Rep. Deb Heffernan, the bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.  We need the IEP Task Force to reconvene Senator Poore and Rep. Heffernan!  Please make this happen!  This group is needed now more than ever.  Former Lieutenant Governor, now Attorney General Matt Denn wanted this task force to continue when he served as the Chair.  With so many changes in education occurring on a daily basis, we need to make sure our students with disabilities are given a fair shake in all aspects of education!

Delaware DOE Reveals The Common Core Loving Truth Of Standards Based IEPs

DOEBldg

In education tradition, the term “Standards-Based IEPs” meant something very different from the current bastardization of the words.  Nowadays, it means Common Core.  As in aligning a student with disabilities IEP to the Common Core State Standards.  I challenged the DOE on this a year and a half ago.  Their response: that it was a myth.  That this had more to do with the IEP than Common Core.  They lied.  They lied to me, and they lied to the IEP Task Force.  It is all about the Common Core.  This isn’t my first rodeo in writing about standards based IEPs.  Cause I was really ticked off here, even more than when I first figured out what they were.  I know this because the DOE put it on their own website, as seen on the last paragraph of this picture:

DOE StandardsBasedIEPs

 

So what is this WRITES initiative the DOE speaks of?  It is the “ACCESS Project”, and it comes from the University of Delaware’s Center for Disability Studies.  Yet another program where the DOE is spending tons of money to “fix” our education with their top vendor: University of Delaware.  The University explains what this project is here.  The key words from the DOE website are “aligning student IEP goals and assessments to the Common Core State Standards.”  When did special education ever become about the curriculum and standards and not the individual student?  They will try to make parents of these children think it is all about the individual, but this is the biggest lie.  Because Markell and the DOE want these students to fail…

What really ticks me off with special education in Delaware is the fact that students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd grad who qualify for basic special education services based on their IEP receive no extra funding. Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams took aim at this inequity last winter with House Bill 30, and has now been tied in with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission. I think it was one of the most important education bills in Delaware right now. But why did we even get to this place to begin with?

To find the answer to this, we have to go back almost five years ago to January 6th, 2011.  This is the day House Bill #1 was introduced to the Delaware General Assembly.  The bill made into law the needs-based funding formula that is our current method of funding schools based on units and special education.  This legislation was rushed through the House and Senate in 20 days and passed both by 1/26/11.  Governor Markell signed the legislation on 2/17/11.  The bill was more a technicality than actual groundbreaking legislation.  The needs-based funding formula pilot actually started out in Brandywine and Seaford back in 2003.  12 more districts were added in 2004, and then all districts and charters were included in 2009.  This was accomplished by use of epilogue language in the budget bill.  House Bill #1 solidified this by making it part of Title 14, the section that covers education in Delaware code.

Since 2009, all public school students in Delaware have been a part of the needs-based funding formula, but basic special education students in K-3 received no extra funding.  I have to wonder why.  Look at these students now.  Children who were in Kindergarten when Governor Markell signed this bill in February 2011 would now be in 5th grade.  If they were in 3rd grade then, they would now be in 8th.  What assessment do students take from 3rd to 8th grade?  The Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While this bill was rushed through the General Assembly, no one could have predicted the monstrosity that is the Smarter Balanced Assessment four years later.  But Governor Markell was well aware of this.

Almost a year before this, Delaware was one of two states to win the first round of Race To The Top.  As part of the funding received from RTTT, states were required to create state assessments aligned with Common Core.  Markell knew this, the DOE knew this, and the General Assembly knew this.  The students who were denied special education funding through House Bill #1 eventually became the students with disabilities guinea pigs on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  We all know how they did on this test statewide.  19% proficiency.  They were destined to fail.  I believe Markell wanted this.  After all, to justify more contracts and companies coming into Delaware to fix our education, doesn’t there have to be a problem?

We are now seeing this with the contract the DOE is currently picking a vendor for.  According to the DOE and Markell, we have a literacy problem that needs to be fixed, but there is so much more wrapped into that contract proposal.  It is all tied into US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his bon voyage gift as he leaves his position.  Which brings us back to standards-based IEPs.  How many contracts and vendors will it take to get Delaware students with disabilities from 19% to 59% proficiency in six years?  Quite a few I imagine!  It is and always has been about the money.  But as always, it is the students who pay the price.  As well, I have no doubt House Bill 30 will become law, whether WEIC passes or not.  Because the extra money and funding that these students should have never been denied, will help to get that proficiency rate up!  But for the students with disabilities from 2009-2016 who went through Kindergarten to 3rd grade in Delaware without this essential funding, what happens with them?  Their very foundation in education stolen from them because of a jacked up funding formula designed to make them look bad.

This issue is at the heart of this blog.  Because my son was one of those students.  Because the funding isn’t there for those students, getting an IEP for them can be very difficult at some schools.  Why would a school implement an IEP and provide services for these students if they aren’t getting any extra funding for them?  And these children have suffered immensely for Jack Markell’s hubris.

First State Military Academy Having BIG Issues As Well, Another “Model” Of Learning Through Innovative Schools…

Looks like Delaware Met isn’t the only brand new charter school to open this year that is having problems.  Turns out First State Military Academy in Kent County is feeling major opening pains as well.  First State Military Academy (FSMA) picked the Innovative Schools inspired “New Tech Network” for their model.  You would think with a technology-based program the school would have computers for all the kids.  Nope, they are thirty short.  Oops!  Innovative Schools website describes this “New Tech Network as:

New Tech Network (NTN) is a non-profit school development organization that works with districts to build and sustain innovative K-12 public schools. NTN works to create a rigourous and engaging school experience that features the intense use of Project-Based Learning and technology to establish a positive and engaging school culture. In the seventeen years since its founding, the network has grown to 133 K-12 schools in twenty-three states and Australia. Innovative Schools has established partnerships with schools like Delaware New Tech Academy in Seaford and First State Military Academy in Clayton, to help bring the first New Tech Network model schools to Delaware. Learn More About New Tech

But the bigger problem has to do with special education.  When FSMA opened they received forty students with disabilities.  As a new school and students that transferred, the school has to redo all those IEPs.  They have one dual-certified teacher to handle all forty of these students on top of being the one to handle all these IEPs.  And here is the kicker- they have to be completed by October 30th.  In five days!  What is it with these charter schools that don’t anticipate large populations of special needs students?  The state average is 13% and rising.  Like Delaware Met, they didn’t count on this at all.  It comes with the package, and the State Board of Education, the Charter School Office and the Exceptional Children Resources Group should be making sure all new charters have their ducks in a row with this kind of thing.

With this revelation coming out, I feel obligated to reveal a story I wrote about FSMA in the summer, but I never named the school.  Yes, this was the school that had a special education coordinator that pretended to be on the IEP Task Force last year.  This coordinator quit before school started.  I wonder why?

As well, I’m hearing several students are having a VERY difficult time with the curriculum at this school.  Some are failing.  While these issues aren’t at the level Delaware Met is having, I would say they are very serious.  Time to add another one to the pile Delaware DOE?

Senator Lawson Gives The Knockout Punch To Markell and the “We Know Best” Bunch!

Not sure how I missed this one, but on the day of the Delaware Governor Markell veto of the parent opt-out bill, House Bill 50, the Delaware State News wrote an article with awesome quotes by Senator Dave Lawson where he said the following:

“This action by Gov. Markell proves, without a doubt, that he and the ‘We know best’ bunch have NO regard for what parents and the legislature approve.

“It is sad that the Governor decided to veto a piece of legislation supporting parents’ rights,” he added.
Gov. Markell had opposed the bill since the beginning, but the measure passed the House by a 31-vote and the Senate by 15-6 vote.

As one of the co-sponsors of the bill, alongside State Rep. John Kowalko, Lawson has stood of for parents rights and has been a strong parent advocate during this whole process of opting out.  During a press conference in early April, he referred to opt-out as a “God-given right for parents” and I couldn’t agree more.  In the past year, Lawson picked up the education baton and ran with it.  He served on the IEP Task Force which led to the passage of Senate Bill 33 to give parents more rights during the IEP process.  As well, he is the chair of the taskforce for the blind which came about from hard-hitting public comments during the IEP Task Force.

Exciting News About The IEP Task Force in Delaware!

In my conversation with Attorney General Matt Denn the other night, we also talked about the possibility of the IEP Task Force in Delaware reconvening.  This group dealt with issues surrounding Individualized Education Programs and special education in Delaware.  This culminated with Senate Bill 33, signed into law by Delaware Governor Jack Markell a couple weeks ago, which will launch a multitude of new laws concerning special education in Delaware.

Denn said Senator Nicole Poore was planning on introducing legislation that evening/morning to get the IEP Task Force going again, but with the very hectic schedule due to the budget issues, he wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.  I looked on the Delaware General Assembly website yesterday to see if anything did happen, and I didn’t find anything.

I contacted Senator Poore, and she did confirm what Denn told me, but she said it was absolutely crazy that last day and was not able to get it in for a vote.  However, she did state that herself and State Rep. Deb Heffernan have discussed this at length about getting the IEP Task Force going again, and they will be working during the next 6 months to examine ideas and issues to tackle when they introduce legislation in January 2016 to get the IEP Task Force reconvened.  Attorney General Denn will not be the Chair, but Poore and Heffernan would be co-running the task force.

Poore recognized that while the original IEP Task Force tackled a lot of issues, there are certainly many more matters to tackle.  While the make-up of the group may be a bit different, I look forward to this group getting together again and discussing these issues!  Recently, Delaware was rated as “needs assistance” by the Office of Special Education Programs based on their 17 part indicators for compliance and results, but this blogger does not believe this paints a full picture of the issues facing special education in Delaware.

Charter Schools Must Really Think Parents Are Complete Idiots…This Time It Blew Up In Their Face!

Yesterday, a charter school set to open in the fall had an open house.  A citizen of Delaware went to check it out, and talked with a special education director.  She asked the director if she was familiar with the laws that will come out of Senate Bill 33, the IEP Task Force legislation that Governor Markell is signing in a couple days.  The special ed director said yes, and she was on the task force.  The citizen was very shocked, and explained to the director that she was not on the task force because she was and had never seen the director at any of the meetings.  The director insisted and told the citizen she must not have gone to all of the meetings.  She informed her she went to every single one.  Then the director asked her what she was doing there and got very snooty.

When I heard this I laughed hysterically.  Really?  Do they think we are that stupid?

IEP Task Force Legislation Clears The House With 40-0 Vote, Governor Markell Needs To Sign & It Is Law!

Senate Bill 33, the IEP Task Force bill, cleared the Delaware House of Representatives with a unanimous 40-0 vote, with one representative absent.  Short and sweet.  No one had any questions about it, just went straight to roll call.  Now the bill goes to Governor Markell’s desk for signing.

IEP Task Force Bill To Get Delaware Senate Vote Later Today

Senate Bill 33 is on it’s last stop before Governor Markell’s desk.  Nicknamed the “IEP Task Force Bill”, the Delaware House of Representatives will vote on the bill today.  This long journey began June 24th last year when the US Department of Education labeled Delaware as one of three states needing intervention in Special Education.  Then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn put together Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 which created the IEP Task Force.

The group met from September to December last year, and a report was issued to Governor Markell in January.  Senate Bill 33 went through some rough patches on the way, but once that was done, it sailed through the Delaware Senate and the House Education Committee.  For those who haven’t seen it, this is what Senate Bill 33 will do for special education and IEPs in Delaware:

And also Amendment #3

This Week At Legislative Hall: IEP Task Force Bill, Parent Opt-Out, Assessment Inventory & More!!!!

This will be one busy education week at Legislative Hall in Dover, DE.  Many education bills are moving to their next phase in the legislative process.  Here is what’s on the docket:

Senate Bill 33 w/Senate Amendment #3: This is the legislation that came out of the IEP Task Force.  It is up for a House vote, and if it passes, it goes to Governor Markell’s desk.  I like this bill with one exception: they took out a part about parent groups at schools.  Originally, it was supposed to be parents who first ask for an IEP will have an opportunity to meet with newly constructed parent groups at each charter school or district.  Now it is only for “existing” groups.  Even if Jack signs it, it won’t go into effect right away, so I would suggest parents get these “existing” groups going now.  No one knows what to look for in IEPs more than parents who have been through the process.

At the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd, at 2:30, the following bills will be discussed: Senate Bill 62: regarding transportation of students, House Bill 144: another transportation bill dealing with appropriations, House Bill 146: Kim Williams bill dealing w/waiving of teacher licensure fees, and House Bill 148: Helene Keeley’s bill creating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

And last, but certainly not least, we have the Senate Education Committee meeting at Wednesday at 3pm.  House Bill 50!!! Parent Opt-Out!  Also Senate Joint Resolution #2: the evil assessment inventory resolution the DOE thinks will stop House Bill 50.  Also Senate Bills #92 and 93, dealing with Autism, and Senate Bill #94, dealing with military identification for students w/military ties in their family.

If you plan on coming Wednesday, GET THERE EARLY and wait for the doors to open up if you want a halfway decent seat!

Special Education in Delaware

I had a long conversation with someone the other and I realized something.  Delaware still needs massive help with special education.  It’s not every school, it’s not every teacher.  It’s not everything the DOE is doing either.  But a lot of it is those things.  Is it getting better?  From what I hear from so many parents, it’s not.  In fact, some say it’s never been worse.

On June 24th last year, the News Journal announced the US DOE put Delaware on a needs intervention for special education watch.  I started this blog a couple weeks before this announcement, so I jumped on this story right away.  I was in complete agreement.  What I hoped more than anything was that this warning would galvanize the DOE, schools, and legislators to do more for special education.  The IEP Task Force was created and legislators introduced bills to address special education in Delaware.  None have been passed yet.  With Smarter Balanced, more pressure is on the schools, and I fear special education students needs are not being met because of this.  They may be getting more RTI and MAP or DIBELS assessments, but are they getting all of the services they need?

I went and looked at the Facebook comments on the June 24th announcement.  Take a look at them.  If you were any of those parents, I ask you this: Have things gotten better?  Have they gotten worse?

https://www.facebook.com/Delawareonline/posts/10152304695149480

For teachers in our schools, do you find it harder to get IEP goals met for these students with disabilities?  For parents, are you getting what you think your child deserves during IEP meetings?  I think it’s past time we all organized, separate from all the government and DOE groups.  What say you?  As we saw with parent opt-out, parents can make a huge difference.  Let’s do it with special education!

Delaware IEP Task Force Bill Unanimously Released From House Education Committee

The mood in the Delaware House Education Committee meeting this week was a great deal lighter than last week.  Delaware Senator Nicole Poore’s Senate Bill 33, otherwise known as the IEP Task Force bill, cleared through the House Education Committee with no “nay” votes.

The biggest topic of conversation surrounded teachers or contractors in IEP meetings.  Several individuals commented at the IEP Task Force meetings held last fall that they felt intimidated or in some cases, threatened, about advocating for a student during an IEP meeting.  Part of the legislation of Senate Bill 33 would put into state law that this practice would not be legal.  Opponents of this one section were worried about teachers or contractors speaking out without enough knowledge to help the student, which could lead to many complications according to these individuals.  Members of the task force gave public comment explaining why this was included, and that while some districts may not have these issues, others have.  Although a representative from the Delaware State Educators Association was present, they had no public comment on this matter.

Delaware State Rep. Sean Lynn was concerned about the exact wording for parent or guardian as some people may legally be assigned those rules from the court.  He suggested a potential amendment, but Attorney General Matt Denn, who also chaired the IEP Task Force, explained this definition of “parent” is already written into State and Federal law.  No amendment was introduced by Lynn upon hearing this.

State Rep. Kim Williams asked when the Procedural Safeguards parents receive when they ask for an IEP or 504 plan was last updated.  Maryann Mieczkowski, Director of the Exceptional Childrens Resources group with the Delaware DOE  and an IEP Task Force member answered 2009 when the law was last changed, but it would be updated to reflect the new law if Senate Bill 33 becomes law.

A few individuals, including myself, expressed a desire to see the IEP Task Force continue, which Denn hinted may happen during the task force meetings last fall.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan wanted this, but she wanted the group to focus more on student outcome going forward.  She didn’t clarify what this meant, if it was about standards-based IEPs, or transition issues for students who become adults with disabilities.  Many Delaware agencies gave full support of the bill in public comment.

Delaware IEP Task Force Legislation To Be Heard At House Education Committee Tomorrow

Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Delaware Senator Nicole Poore, will be heard in the Delaware House Education Committee tomorrow at 2:30pm at Legislative Hall in Dover.  While this bill is not nearly as controversial as House Bill 50, there is some controversy surrounding it.  Just search Senate Bill 33 on this blog for past articles.  From the legis.delaware.gov website which thankfully has fixed the linking issues since they redesigned the site last month:

Chamber: House

Chairman: Jaques

Location/Room: House Chamber

Date/Time: 04/29/2015 02:30:00 PM

Revision Num:

Agenda

SB 33 w/SA 3 AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATION AND THE INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM.
Sponsor : Poore

HB 52 AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS.
Sponsor : Hudson

HB 81 AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATION PROFILE REPORTS.
Sponsor : M. Smith


Comment:

Meeting Minutes: